Social Media and Apps: Risks and Rewards for Kids and Parents

pope-francis-mark-zuckerberg-facebookToday (Aug. 29), Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan — who are recent parents of a daughter, Maxima met with Pope Francis at the Santa Marta residence, the guest house in Vatican City where the pontiff lives.

Here’s how Zuckerberg described the encounter on Facebook (unedited):

Priscilla and I had the honor of meeting Pope Francis at the Vatican. We Told him how much we admire His message of mercy and tenderness, and how he’s found new ways to communicate with people of every faith around the world. We also discussed The Importance of connecting people, especially in parts of the world without internet access. We gave him a model of Aquila, our solar-powered aircraft That will beam Internet connectivity to places That do not have it. And we shared our work with the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative to help people around the world. It was a meeting we’ll never forget. You can feel His warmth and kindness, and how deeply he cares about helping people.

The pope has met with other tech leaders — including, most recently, Apple CEO Tim Cook and Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt.

Francis is also a star himself on social media, with 9.75M followers on the English-language version alone of his Twitter account, @Pontifex, and 3.1M on his Instagram account, @franciscus — but he doesn’t have an official Facebook page.

One reason given for the pope’s absence on Facebook is the high levels of abuse aimed at public figures. From a 2014 story in the U.K. Independent:

However, the head of the Vatican’s pontifical council for social communications, Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, said during a speech in New York that the offensive replies @Pontifex was getting on Twitter were creating a “crisis” in the Vatican.

Mr Celli said that although abusive comments on Twitter were easier to ignore, those on Facebook would be “more prominent.”

Mr Celli revealed that the Vatican already spends too many hours “cleaning” the Facebook page of its official news website, to which they remove “obscene comments” but leave “educational debates”. “It’s not worth doing the same for a profile or Facebook page with the name of Pope Francis,” he said.

If the Vicar of Christ suffers from cyberbullying and the other unfortunate side-effects of online interaction, it’s obvious how much risk ordinary folk run — especially children.

So,  as the new school year begins, I reached out to digital-literacy expert Diana Graber at to see what parents could do. Here’s how she answered some email questions:

As we head back to school, cyberbullying is likely to increase for elementary and high-school students. What are the top things parents can do to keep their children from being victims of cyberbullying — or, to become bullies themselves?

The best thing parents can do is to keep open communication with their children and invite them to talk about their online experiences, without fear that their devices might be taken away if they make a mistake or admit they’ve engaged in inappropriate behavior. Remember, children will and do make mistakes online! Parents can also ask that their schools include lessons on cyberbullying, digital reputation management, sexting, online time management, and more. We offer lessons like these through our in-school program called We’ve learned that for many middle- and high-school students it is easier to talk to peers and teachers, rather than their parents, about their online lives.

What do you ask parents to think about before posting pictures of their children online?

We help parents understand that everyone has a “digital footprint” or “digital reputation.” When parents post pictures of their children online, sometimes starting when children are very young, they are contributing to their child’s “footprint” without his or her knowledge or consent. The child then has to live with this “footprint” their entire life! Students often tell us know much they dislike it when their parents post their photos online without their permission. It is important for parents to be respectful of their children’s online reputation, privacy, and feelings.

Catholic parents are rightly concerned about their children seeing anti-Christian messaging online, or being exposed to values that their parents don’t support. How can they teach their children to be in the online world, but not of it?

There is a lot of information online that is not “child-friendly” or appropriate, let alone inconsistent with a parent’s views or beliefs. In a new book titled, “The Cyber Effect,” author Dr. Mary Aiken writes, “the Internet is clearly, unmistakably an adult environment. It simply wasn’t designed for children.” It is important for parents, especially those with younger children, to monitor what their children are doing online. One easy way of doing this is by engaging the help of parental control software. A product we like and often recommend to parents is called Surfie.

What are the best ways kids can use social media to enhance their learning experience?

When children are old enough to use social media (most social media sites, like Instagram and Snapchat, require users to be at least 13 years of age), parents can encourage them to use social media to connect with teachers and friends in order to keep track of their homework assignments, classes, etc. (most kids do this already). Kids can also use social media to engage with others who share similar interests and passions. For example, many young people use Twitter to follow public figures, scientists, authors, inventors, or others who they admire. By doing so they are creating a “personal learning network.” This allows students to extend their education beyond the four walls of a classroom.

What are your favorite educational apps for grade-, middle- and high-schoolers?

Our favorite educational apps/sites for middle- and high-schoolers are:

Khan Academy (learning on many subjects)

Flashcards Plus (custom flashcards for studying)

Graphing Calculator (for Math)

Duolingo (for language learning)

Studious (map, timetable, planner)

Our favorite educational app for grade-schoolers is “the great outdoors.”

As for that last one, we couldn’t agree more!

Diana Graber, the co-founder of and founder of, two organizations dedicated to helping adults and youth learn digital literacy skills. A long-time media producer with an M.A. in “Media Psychology & Social Change,” Graber is also Waldorf school parent and teacher who developed Cyber Civics at Journey School, in Aliso Viejo, CA, shortly after her paper, “Media Literacy Education: A Developmental Approach” was published in the Journal of Media Literacy Education (JMLE). Today she is a regular contributor on digital media topics for The Huffington Post and others, and is also called upon by the media to comment on tech topics. As Adjunct Professor of Media Psychology for the Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology (MSPP), she taught “Media Psychology for the 21st Century.”

Image: Facebook/Mark Zuckerberg

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